[IMGCAP(1)]It’s no secret the accounting profession and the broader business environment are dramatically changing. The issue is how to adapt to all the changes. How are everyday accountants supposed to successfully pivot?

The very idea of a pivot inspires ideas of dramatic and sudden change, but that’s simply not feasible for most individuals working in the profession. Client requirements for public accountants, reporting and management duties for the accounting industry, and the development of curriculum and academic content for academic professionals dominate the time and focus of accountants working in public practice, industry and academia. Pivoting sounds nice, but most working professionals cannot suddenly drop everything and realign their careers.

Analytics, sustainability information and the increased focus on corporate governance, market performance and financial returns for investors have created an environment of challenges and opportunities. Organizations from the top down are increasingly focused on nonfinancial information, and nontraditional sources of information such as big data and social media analytics, to provide insights into how best to manage the organization moving forward. Analytics and effectively leveraging information to improve managerial decision making are rapidly emerging as an area of growth for organizations and practitioners. Embracing these challenges cannot be effectively accomplished within existing frameworks, policies and procedures. The business landscape has evolved and demands more quantitative data, both financial and non-financial, from the accounting profession. Clearly, a pivot is already underway within the profession.

Accountants, whether they’re employed in industry or public practice, must pivot to embrace these emerging areas while retaining competency in tax, attestation and assurance services. This is perhaps the most important aspect of the accounting pivot—in order to effectively and realistically pivot, it must be done incrementally. Learning new skills, such as driving, learning to swim, or learning to cook a new recipe, does not require people to stop performing their existing skills. But in the context of professional development, this truth is often overlooked. While practitioners need to develop new skills and lines of business, their current competencies and areas of expertise should not be left to atrophy.

Pivoting, in the realm of professional and business development, requires a nuanced examination of what exactly a pivot represents for accounting professionals and business mindsets at large. Every practitioner, organization and industry is different, of course, and must be examined on a case-by-case basis, but there are several themes and approaches that can be applied across organizational lines.

To effectively pivot, the first critical step is for the accounting practitioner to have a goal or roadmap. Whether this goal is to make partner at a firm, move up in the organizational hierarchy, get tenure, or simply present at an upcoming conference, the same criteria apply. This goal must be reasonable, applicable to the profession and the individual practitioner, and be something that can complement an existing skill or competency.

Second, after this goal has been developed and compared against a framework of relevant professional goals, the action steps to achieve it have to be compiled. This is a step that is too often overlooked or minimized in importance during a professional pivot. Without a logical roadmap or list of tasks, the odds of accomplishing a substantive goal—not to mention a professional pivot—decrease dramatically.

In addition to creating the list of tasks and objectives relevant to acquiring a re-envisioned competency, it is also necessary to create a method of keeping this list on the front burner. Depending on the specific preference of the accounting practitioner, this system may be as simple as multicolored Post-It notes, a mobile app set to remind you of certain things at certain times, or a list that is kept in your office and at home for daily review. The specific method is less important than the fact that a reminder system exists.

Third, and arguably the most important theme from a psychological perspective, is to recognize that an accounting pivot will take time, effort and dedication. With the dramatic changes that have transformed, and continue to buffet, the accounting profession, the evolution and pivot of accounting is well underway. Accounting professionals must be willing to embrace these changes, be proactive in addressing the ramifications of these changes, and take appropriate professional action to develop relevant new competencies.

Put simply, an accounting pivot has already begun, and accounting practitioners must position themselves to effectively leverage both their existing skills and the ability to acquire ones of emerging importance. The trends are relatively clear: tools and technology exist to make learning and maintaining new skills more convenient than ever before, and the marketplace is in need of proactive, engaged, and quantitatively oriented professionals. Accountants can and should embrace these opportunities, pivot incrementally, and further develop into a role as strategic business partner.

Sean Stein Smith is an assistant professor at Rutgers University, is a member of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, and serves on the NJCPA Content Advisory Board. He can be contacted at drseansteinsmith@gmail.com.

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